Our biggest surprise on Mother’s Day came when we heard water running after our morning shower. Following the sound of running water led us out the garage, where water was coming out from the bottom of our water heater, and starting to flood the garage. Following the instructions on the tank, we turned off the valve on top, which is supposed to shut off further inflow, turned off the gas, and then attached a hose to the spigot at the bottom of the tank, took the hose out to the street, and open the valve to allow the water from the tank to drain out. After watching the water continue to drain for some time, it became apparent that the shut off valve on top was not performing its function. Further attempts to tighten it resulted in no improvement, and water kept flowing out to the street. At least, it was no longer coming into the house.
My wife, who’s very organized, pulled the paper work on the old water heater, and found we had bought it at Home Depot 20 years ago, and it cost us $600 installed by them. We have a friend who works at Home Depot, so we called him, and he gave us the name of the man we should speak to in the plumbing department when we got there. Turned out he was off that day, but another of his associate showed us the three models they currently carried. Our first sticker shock was finding that these appliances now cost in the mid-range $860. When your house in danger of flooding, you don’t spend a lot of time comparison shopping, so we indicated that we wanted to make the purchase as long as the installation could be done either the same day or the next day. The lady helping us assured us that this could be accomplished, and took down our address and phone number. When we wanted to pay, she told us that someone would be out to look at the problem, assess the situation, and give us the price at the time. This should have been our first warning, as previously everything was laid out on paper in the store, and we paid on the spot.
When we arrived home, there was already a message on our phone that the plumbers contracted with Home Depot had called. We called back immediately ARS Rescue Rooter, and were assured that one of their people would be out to the house in an hour. This promise was kept. Soon, a young man arrived, looked at our existing appliance, and told us that we would also have to buy new earthquake straps, new gas connector, and a new valve in order to meet current city construction codes. He quoted us a total of $2,460 for the tank and its installation. This seemed very high to me, given that the appliance itself was only $860 in the store. While his quote detailed what parts would be installed, it provided no breakdown in the costs or the cost of labor. Again, I had water running out to the street we couldn’t turn off, we needed hot water in the house, so I wasn’t in a position to try to get other quotes, especially as he promised the installation would take place the following morning. Upon agreeing to the company’s price, he called a number of an outside agency, where I had to verify to the person that I was the home owner, and I had been provided the three different product options for the installation. This in fact was done, but the prices only differed by a hundred dollars, similar to the appliance prices in the store. The woman asked me if I had any friends around at the time of our conversation, which seemed like a strange question, but I answered “no.”
Two very nice people showed up the following morning, and performed the job as promised. In talking to them, I again indicated that I felt the cost of installation was very high. They told me that had I gone to Lowe’s, the price would have been the same, and if I hadn’t gone directly through Home Depot, with whom they had an exclusive contract, I would have been charged $3,000. I also had a leaky faucet in the kitchen, and asked how much they would charge to install a new one if I provided the product, since they were already on site. The answer was $270. Having done a similar install a year ago, I knew this was very high, and since it wasn’t an emergency, we decided to do it later.
Having the luxury of time, we were able to find the name of a licensed and bonded plumber through a friend who also had a new water heater installed by the same man. He came out the next day, installed a new fixture for $125, less than half the quote we had been given. He commented that the water was coming out brown. We explained that we just had a new water heater installed by Home Depot, and thought the price was rather high. He asked me what model, and if the price was over $1700? I replied, sadly, “yes.” He shook his head, and told us he does that same job for $1,300, and still makes a decent profit.
I agreed to the Home Depot’s contract company’s price, but it was an agreement under duress. Do I feel ripped off? Absolutely. Based on the requirement to have an outside agency confirm my agreement, I suspect lots of other customers have complained about this kind of price gouging. The promise of fast service response and good quality installation was provided. If the price for the work had been 20-25% higher than the going rate for the job, I would accept that as a reasonable premium. But a 100% surcharge? Really? Hopefully, my experience will help save you from a similar fate.